Welcome to Wakayama, Japan’s most underrated location for foodies

(CNN) — There is no denying Tokyo is a single of the world’s food items capitals.

But if you glimpse over and above the Michelin stars and acquire a deep dive into the origins of Japanese cuisine and the several ingredients that determine it, you will find Wakayama prefecture, south of the city of Osaka, delivers an unexpectedly various abundance of flavors.

Scenario in position: It’s the birthplace of Japanese soy sauce.

Named Kishu — or Kii Domain — in historical Japan, Wakayama has been an essential meals and religious centre because Heian-kyo (modern Kyoto) was designed in the late 700s.

The good news is, significantly of that legacy continues to be today, evidenced by these 10 dishes and elements each individual Wakayama visitor requirements to check out.

Soy sauce

Yuasa is the birthplace of Japanese soy sauce.

Yuasa is the birthplace of Japanese soy sauce.

courtesy Yuasa, Wakayama Tourism Bureau

Positioned on the western coastline of Wakayama prefecture, historical Yuasa is stuffed with hundreds of centuries-previous structures. That on your own helps make it worthy of a pay a visit to, but it also just so takes place to be the birthplace of Japanese soy sauce.

The smaller town’s origins as a soy sauce output middle took root more than 700 years ago, when a Japanese monk returned from China with a method for generating miso (soy sauce paste). Soy sauce, a byproduct of miso-generating, was discovered accidentally.

Present-day travelers will really feel like they’ve stepped through a time-warp when going to Yuasa. Lots of of its historic shophouses have miso and soy sauce shops, in addition to modest factories and museums, giving people sufficient alternatives to choose up a few bottles of this prized condiment to get house.

Obtaining there: Capture the community train at Wakayama City’s JR Wakayama station. The journey requires about an hour.

Chuka soba, a.k.a. Wakayama ramen

Resist the temptation to call it ramen -- it's known locally as "chuka soba."

Resist the temptation to simply call it ramen — it is recognized regionally as “chuka soba.”

Maggie Hiufu Wong/CNN

No stop by to Japan is comprehensive with no a bowl of steaming very hot ramen.

In Wakayama Metropolis, ramen is referred to as “chuka soba,” or Chinese noodles. There are numerous versions but each and every bowl of chuka soba ought to characteristic a tonkotsu-shoyu (pork bone and soy sauce) broth with off-white noodles and barbecued pork.

Ide Shoten, voted Japan’s most effective ramen eatery in 1998 during an episode of well-known sequence “Tv set Champion,” is a chuka soba shrine for noodle fans.

Negi (scallion) ramen at Mauri Junibanchoten — served with a green blanket of chopped scallions on major — is a different ought to-test.

Usual chuka soba dining establishments frequently offer a serving of beautifully pressed pickled mackerel sushi on the facet. These are wonderful appetizers and worth biting into just before you dive into your ramen.

Ide Shoten, 4-84 Tanaka City, Wakayama Metropolis

The first sushi

Mehari-zushi features rice balls wrapped in pickled mustard greens -- a Wakayama specialty.

Mehari-zushi capabilities rice balls wrapped in pickled mustard greens — a Wakayama specialty.


Currently, when individuals believe of sushi, nigiri arrives to mind. The most well known illustration of this beloved Japanese dish, it’s a bundle of rice topped with a piece of uncooked fish.

But these looking to experience the original kinds of sushi, which date back to the 10th century, really should head for Wakayama’s Kumano region.

One particular of the area’s most beloved neighborhood cuisines, narezushi is a hand-pressed rice ball topped with fermented fish. (Just do not enable the scent set you off.)

You can discover it in nearby food stuff halls, ramen outlets and also a cafe known as Yatsufusa, which serves narezushi with community sake.

One more sort of traditional sushi is mehari-zushi. These oversized rice balls wrapped in pickled mustard leaves had been after a regular bento (lunch box) inclusion for personnel and farmers. They’re even now a preferred food stuff for hikers checking out the mountainous Kumano location therefore can be identified in a lot of stores in the space.

Yatsufusa, 38-6 Yukawachomaruyama, Gobo, Wakayama


Nakata is one of Wakayama's biggest ume processing and brewing factories. Vistors can take a tour and enjoy a few free samples of the umeshu.

Nakata is a person of Wakayama’s most important ume processing and brewing factories. Vistors can just take a tour and delight in a several totally free samples of the umeshu.

If you happen to be having fun with a refreshing glass of umeshu (plum wine) or a meal of umeboshi onigiri (rice balls with pickled plum) in Japan, there is a fantastic chance the ume is from Wakayama.

The province accounts for all over 60% of Japan’s total ume production. The most renowned assortment is Nanko ume, a substantial, succulent species with a vibrant environmentally friendly and pink hue, abundant style and delicate pulp.

Its title was impressed by the Japanese characters of the text Takada (the farmer who planted the initially ume area in the area) and Minabe (the area wherever his ume industry was located).

Although it is frequently referred to as a plum, ume’s scientific name is truly prunus mume, a kind of apricot.

Numerous umeshu factories give excursions and samples in Wakayama, together with Nakata Foodstuff, outdoors the metropolis of Tanabe.

Nakata Foods, 1475 Shimomisu, Tanabe, Wakayama +81 ()73 922 2486

Kumano beef

Kumano Beef 1

Kumanoogyu is leaner than its Kobe counterpart.

courtesy Wakayama Prefecture

Referred to as Kumanogyu, Wakayama’s premium brand name of beef is the lesser-regarded cousin of the world-renowned Kobe beef.
Raised from the same breed of cow — Tajima — as Kobe and Matsusaka beef, Kumanogyu was imported from Kyoto through ancient times, when rich tourists introduced their cows with them as they embarked on the spiritual Kumano Kodo pilgrimage in the southern element of Wakayama.

Kumano beef, with the identical beautiful marbling and delicate style as its greater-recognized counterpart, is leaner than normal Kobe beef and of wonderful benefit in comparison.

Kumano beef can be observed during the prefecture served in various means. For occasion, Steakhouse Hinoki serves burger steaks created with Kumanogyu, while Yakiniku Hige is a spouse and children-run diner that provides yakiniku with several cuts of Kumano beef.

Sansho pepper

Shansho peppers are used in condiments and marinades.

Shansho peppers are utilised in condiments and marinades.

Tomohiro Ohsumi/Bloomberg/Getty Photos

Similar to Sichuan’s numbing peppers, sansho peppers are mildly spiced, have a tongue-numbing high-quality and a refreshing citrusy fragrance.

Wakayama is the biggest producer of sansho peppers not just in Japan but also the earth.

They are widely used as a condiment as nicely as in marinades. That eco-friendly or brown powder you see on grilled eel and grilled chicken? That is sansho. Peppers harvested at distinct periods in the course of the year will differ in physical appearance and tastes, when the leaves are often utilized as decoration.

They’re also identified in jars of 7-spice combination (shichimi togarashi) on tables in pretty much each Japanese cafe.

On the lookout for a culinary souvenir? You can locate bottles of shichimi togarashi or grounded sansho pepper in several regional shops and supermarkets.


Tried and true: The smell of Arida mandarins will make orange fans drool.

Tried out and genuine: The scent of Arida mandarins will make orange admirers drool.

Maggie Hiufu Wong/CNN

Wakayama is Japan’s biggest producer of mikan and the prefecture’s Arida Mikan is just one of the best mandarin orange brands in Japan.

In addition to mikan, Wakayama is a important producer of other fruits like persimmons, peaches and kiwis, foremost many to refer to it as Japan’s kajuokoku (the fruit kingdom).

Koya tofu

Travelers can experience Koya's famed Buddhist vegetarian cuisine, which includes plenty of tofu.

Vacationers can expertise Koya’s famed Buddhist vegetarian cuisine, which includes a great deal of tofu.


Named following Mount Koya, the sacred mountain in Wakayama that remains a pilgrimage web-site for devout Buddhists, Koya tofu has a frosty again story dating to the early 1600s.

It can be believed monks of the area’s temples applied to make it in the freezing winter season temperatures.

To protect the year’s soybean harvests, it was produced into tofu that was remaining outdoor to freeze in advance of it was thawed and dried for storage.

In contrast to the silky pudding-like new tofu most are familiar with, the dried Koya tofu has a crouton-like texture and is excellent for absorbing sauce and soup in a dish.


Several Wakayama fish markets offer tuna cutting demonstrations.

A number of Wakayama fish marketplaces offer tuna chopping demonstrations.

Maggie Hiufu Wong/CNN

Not only does Wakayama have some of the greatest ports for skipjack tuna, it’s also playing a function in initiatives to help you save the species from likely extinct.

In reaction to amplified desire for skipjack tuna, over the past three decades Kindai College in Osaka has been doing the job to build a a lot more sustainable, thoroughly farmed tuna selection — and they have succeeded at their Oshima farm station at Kushimoto, Wakayama.

You can now come across the Kindai tuna together with wild-caught tuna in Wakayama’s quite a few fish marketplaces.

To sample some of the prefecture’s prized tuna, site visitors can head to Katsuura Fishing Port. One of the greatest tuna fishing ports in Japan, it hosts a day by day auction as very well as tuna slicing demos.

Toretore Marketplace in Shirahama and Kuroshio Industry in Wakayama Metropolis also host day-to-day tuna reducing demonstrates.

Bonito flakes

Dried bonito flakes are a Japanese culinary staple.

Dried bonito flakes are a Japanese culinary staple.


Wakayama is also stated to be the birthplace of katsuobushi — the wiggling, dried bonito flakes utilized to garnish takoyaki (squid balls) and okonomiyaki (savory Japanese pancakes with cabbages, flour, eggs and, sometimes, pork and noodles).

To make katsuobushi, filets of deboned skipjack tuna are consistently smoked and dried till they’re as tricky as a picket block. The hardened fish is then shaved into slender flakes, which are used as a seasoning. It truly is one of the primary substances in dashi, the famed umami Japanese soup stock.

There are various tales related to the discovery of bonito flakes that entail different prefectures in Japan but several of them issue to Wakayama.

One particular promises it was the normal exercise for fishermen in Wakayama, who essential to protect its skipjack tuna catches just before providing them to other destinations.

No matter of the origins, bonito flakes are a Wakayama staple. Packaged bonito flakes can be found in pretty a lot any current market/foodstuff shop — marking them the perfect souvenir.